Antwerp 2009

A time to remember 
Antwerp, Belgium 2nd October 2009 

“A small tribute to musicians from Flanders in a great Irish homage”

As I was able to be part of the moving premiere of “A Time To Remember” in Dublin, I was very curious about The Dubliners’ gig in Antwerp. I had of course read the fascinating report on the series of concerts in Vienna published on this site, and told the group of friends who were accompanying us that they were about to experience one of the most unique Dubliners’ concerts in Belgium of the decade. As such, our expectations were enormously raised and, may I say, totally met!

The audience could sense immediately at John’s introduction that today The Dubliners were going to narrate a very special tale indeed, using their music to help them do so. In the Vicar Street gig in July, one picture per song was projected onto the white canvas. During the summer months, John scoured the archives for more pictures, and this time we were treated to three photos on average per track. We were thoroughly spoiled with a seemingly never-ending wealth of images of these incredibly photogenic men, and in doing so were able to travel along in time with The Dubliners.

People listened with a heightened sense of awareness to what the lads were telling in between songs and with a respectful silence to John’s poems. Thanks to the fact that John had to elaborate somewhat more for the benefit of a non-Irish audience as to the background information on some of the songs, I learnt that “Roisin” from the title of Luke’s poem, is a poetic name for Ireland. What was also ‘new’ for me this time round was Patsy’s beautiful version of “The Town I Loved So Well”.

In this report, I’m limiting myself to the Belgian aspect in this homage. Barney’s tribute to his friends and musicians from Flanders, namely Wannes Van De Velde and Dirk Lambrechts, was perfectly framed within the homage to Luke, Ciaran and Ronnie. It would undoubtedly be worthwhile to spend some time looking at the friendship between these three musicians, friends and peers, but this would lead us too far off the given track. I would however like to briefly elaborate on how Barney came to pay his respects to Wannes and Dirk, during the homage to his fellow Dubliners at the concert in Antwerp.

During the folk-revival in the seventies, there was much contact between Irish and Flemish folk musicians; e.g. between The Dubliners and the members of Rum – the late Dirk Lambrechts (1944 – 2006) being one of the founding members, and the late Wannes Van de Velde (1937 – 2008).

Dirk Lambrechts was an art historian, a guitarist, and for about 20 years the owner of “De Spaanse Brabander”, a famous restaurant in Leuven, Flanders’ best-known university town. He specialised in authentic traditional European recipes. He also wrote a couple of books, including one about Portuguese fado music and one about the traditional European kitchen.

After one of The Dubliners’ concerts in Leuven, probably in 1970-71, Barney McKenna stayed in Leuven for a couple of months with his friend Dirk Lambrechts, who at that time opened his restaurant. Barney even helped Dirk put up a sign on the wall of “De Spaanse Brabander”. On the afternoon of the gig in Antwerp, I had given Barney a beautiful picture of himself and Dirk, (taken by Dirk’s friend, photographer Jan Devijver) in the early eighties on one of Barney’s visits to Belgium. This memory was still fresh in his mind during the concert and so Barney dedicated “I Wish I Had Someone To Love Me” to Dirk.

His tribute to Wannes Van De Velde, Flanders’ greatest singer of traditional music, composer and flamenco-guitarist, was even more noticeable to the audience. At the end of the first part of the gig, before “The Auld Triangle”, Barney usually plays some reels. During this performance however, as during The Dubliners’ Antwerp gig in 2008, he performed an instrumental version of one of his favourite songs from Wannes Van De Velde’s repertoire, “De Vagebond”. Eamonn accompanied him on guitar. Wannes’ fans recognised the melody immediately and reacted very enthusiastically. In his introduction to this number, Barney said he wanted to make a trip down memory lane and consequently told us in detail about his friend Wannes, who in the seventies had come to stay with him on a number of occasions. Wannes would spend a large proportion of his time drawing and walking along Dublin Bay, while Barney would take his fishing boat out to sea. On at least one occasion Barney took him for a drink to O’Donoghue’s to meet his fellow Dubliners. Barney concluded by saying that Wannes is as famous in Antwerp as Luke is in Dublin. Since I have a great appreciation for Wannes as a person, as an artist and for his repertoire, I was sincerely touched by Barney’s tribute to him.

Traditional (Irish) music does indeed create lasting bonds of friendship!

Article & photographs Ria Voet, Belgium, expect:
Photograph of Barney & Dirk by Jan Devijver, early 80s, in Rotselaar, province of Brabant in Belgium

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